"Donnie Darko" Director Brings His Next Film To Comics

Fri, March 24th, 2006 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
George A. Tramountanas, Staff Writer

Kevin Smith has always been comic's ambassador to the film industry, and he appears to have made another convert - Richard Kelly, writer-director of "Donnie Darko" and writer of "Domino." Later this year, Kelly will be releasing a film called "Southland Tales," which stars The Rock ("Doom," "Walking Tall"), Sarah Michelle Gellar ("The Grudge," "Buffy The Vampire Slayer"), Sean William Scott ("Dukes of Hazzard," "American Pie"), and…Kevin Smith.

Part of Kelly's vision for the film was to create a prequel of sorts as an introduction to his story. He eventually decided that comic books were the format of choice for this endeavor, and teamed with artist Brett Weldele ("Surrogates," "Julius") to bring his vision to life. Smith's View Askew Productions jumped in as a co-producer on the comic, along with Kelly's Darko Entertainment, of course, and publisher Graphitti Designs.

CBR News tracked down both Kelly and Weldele to answer some questions about the book and the movie. So without much further ado…

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CBR News: To confirm, there will be three "Southland Tales" books, each approximately ninety-six pages, correct?

Richard Kelly: There will be three books, and each one will be around a hundred pages. The complete saga is told in six chapters. The graphic novels are the first half and the film is the second half.

CBR News: Richard, what made you decide to do a comic prequel?

RK: When I was writing the script, I realized that there was this elaborate backstory that I wanted to tell, but in order to do so, the script would have been three hundred pages long. Several companies expressed interest in doing some sort of comic book tie-in, and the more I considered it, it just made more sense for me to just do the books as a prequel that leads straight into the film. The original screenplay was always presented in three chapters, so I just changed them to chapters 4, 5 and 6, and then started mapping out 1, 2 and 3 as three separate fifty-page screenplays that could be adapted into graphic novels.

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CBR News: According to IMDB, the movie's storyline is as follows:

"Southland Tales" is an ensemble piece set in the futuristic landscape of Los Angeles on July 4, 2008, as it stands on the brink of social, economic and environmental disaster. Boxer Santaros is an action star who's stricken with amnesia. His life intertwines with Krysta Now, an adult film star developing her own reality television project, and David Clark, a Hermosa Beach police officer who holds the key to a vast conspiracy.

Is the above description accurate?

RK: The above description is accurate, although it is really more of a cryptic tease. There is a lot more going on in this story than we could ever describe in a few sentences. Also, Seann William Scott's character is no longer called David Clark. His name is now Roland Taverner.

CBR News: The description makes the film sound like a combination of genres. Do you feel it falls into any one genre more than others? If so, which one?

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RK: "Southland Tales" is a science-fiction thriller first and foremost (and I assume that is how they will market it), but it is also a political satire, and somewhat of a musical (although others may disagree). It is comments like this - made over the years - that have caused lots of confusion (for others) and headaches (for me). I don't understand what is so baffling to people about melding genres together. It is the only thing I know how to do. I couldn't tell a story that fits into just one genre or category. But when it gets shelved at the Virgin Megastore sometime in 2007, you'll probably find it under science-fiction.

CBR News: Can you give me any other details about the stories you are telling in the books (or more details about the film's story)?

RK: I don't want to disclose any more details about the story, just read the graphic novels and you will begin to see the puzzle forming. I don't want to spoil anything. I know that there have been details about the story released over the internet, but a lot of that information has been completely false or taken out of context from an older draft of the script.

CBR News: Who are the main characters of each book?

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RK: Almost all of the characters in the film are introduced in the graphic novels. The three leading characters of "Southland Tales" are Boxer Santaros (played by The Rock), Krysta Now (played by Sarah Michelle Gellar) and Roland Taverner (played by Seann William Scott).

CBR News: What is the timeline of these prequel books in relation to the movie? Do they take place in the week, month, or year before the movie? Or even further back in the story's timeline?

RK: The graphic novels cover a span of three days that end on July 2, 2008. The film picks up right where the third novel ends, and the film climaxes on July 4th. There are flashbacks interwoven into the novels that go back to events from years before, but the basic timeline of the entire saga is six days.

CBR News: Richard, how familiar were you with the comic book scripting format before you did this book? Or did you write the stories more in screenplay format, and allowed Brett to break the story down for you?

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RK: I wasn't familiar at all with comic books. I started to do treatments for each book, but it just didn't work out. So, I just wrote fifty page screenplays for each one and Brett made the translation happen. The books read like movies. The movie really begins with the first novel. The challenge with this whole thing was two-fold: 1) make sure that you don't necessarily have to have read the novels to understand the film, and 2) make sure that having read the graphic novels doesn't ruin any of the surprises within the film.

CBR News: Did Kevin Smith provide you any tips when it came to writing the comic book?

RK: Not really. He just offered to publish them and facilitated a meeting with Bob Chapman, who he has worked with for years.

CBR News: What did you think of your first experience writing comics? Would you have any interest in doing it again?

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RK: We'll see how these books are received. It has been a ton of work, and sometimes we didn't know if we could pull this off, but when I saw the first promotional copy of "Book I," I was just in awe. Brett did an amazing job. Seeing it all come together is pretty cool.

CBR News: Let's bring your artist in on the discussion a bit. Brett, considering the looks of the characters in the "Southland Tales" books are based on real people, did you alter your style at all? Did you use photos as references?

Brett Weldele: I used photos as a jumping off point. We didn't want to deal with some of the downsides to dealing with likeness approval. So, really, the characters are inspired by their real life counterparts. Richard gave me a ton of freedom, but I was also aware that there needed to be a smooth transition between the comics to the film.

CBR News: Brett, what was the biggest challenge for you when it came to the art? And what did you enjoy most about this project?

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BW: The biggest challenge is the sheer volume of art. I've never done anything quite this large. Also I've never adapted a screenplay. It's been a huge learning experience.

The biggest joy has been getting some really kick-ass scripts from Richard.

CBR News: Okay, time for the perv in me to come out - Sarah Michelle Gellar has said in interviews that she doesn't ever plan on doing nudity in films. Considering her character in the comic is an adult film star, how…much of her character will fans see in the comic?

RK: Sorry folks, no nudity in either the books or the film. Krysta is a very classy porn star.

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CBR News: And following up the previous question - what is the rating of the movie and comic book? Both sound to be in the "R" range, would that be correct?

RK: The film will most definitely be rated "R" for language and violence. There is no nudity in the film. The books follow the same suit.

CBR News: Brett, how exactly did the process work? What do you mean in saying that you "adapted" the material from screenplays?

BW: Each book is its own script. The breakdown process is fairly straightforward thanks to how Richard writes. The visual and dialogue beats are easy to pick up on. I just go through the screenplay with a pencil and start grouping sections of dialogue together forming panels.

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CBR News: How did this book end up at Graphitti? Was this due to the Kevin Smith connection?

RK: When Kevin got wind I was going to get into this business, he summoned me up to his house and gave me a lot of great advice. I'm glad I listened to him - Bob [Chapman, president of Graphitti] and everyone at Graphitti have been amazing.

CBR News: When are each of these books coming out? And when is the movie coming out?

RK: The first book comes out May 31st, and each subsequent book will come out a month later. The movie does not have a firm release date, although it will likely be sometime this fall. The movie will not be finished until sometime in late April/early May.

CBR News: Thanks for your time, Richard and Brett!

CBR News

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